5th Avenue Mile Recap (or, You Should Run the Mile!)

I seem to be in the minority when I say that the mile is my favorite distance to race. It’s short, sweet and deceivingly difficult—if your lungs aren’t burning by the time you reach the home stretch, you need to go faster! For marathoners especially, mile pace can be a shock to the system after all of those long, slow runs. I’ve done a grand total of ONE track workout that has even touched on mile pace since starting to train for Philadelphia. Still, I love a challenge. And I love the mile. So when registration for the New York Road Runners (NYRR) New Balance 5th Avenue Mile opened over the summer, I knew I’d be toeing the starting line come fall.

Photo from NYRR.org.

Photo from NYRR.org.

The 5th Avenue Mile is typically held during the first or second week of September on (you guessed it) 5th Avenue in New York City. NYRR blocks off the entire avenue to traffic from 86th Street down to the finish at 60th Street. It’s an all-day event, with age groups going off in the morning and elites, kids and speciality heats in the afternoon. Even if you’re not interested in running—although I highly recommend it!—it’s tons of fun to watch and cheer.

Sunday was my third year racing the event. In 2016 I was coming off injury and surprised myself by matching my then-PR. This year I knew I’d made some big fitness gains, but I’d also heard that marathon training makes people “slow.” That didn’t stop me from wanting to go sub-5:35, though, down from a PR of 5:42.

Fun fact: I stick my tongue out when I run fast. :P

Fun fact: I stick my tongue out when I run fast. :P

Before heading to the start, I warmed up with a 1.5 mile jog and a few pick ups to get my legs moving. Then it was 8:10am, the gun went off and I was flying down 5th Avenue. The course starts flat, goes slightly uphill, slightly downhill and finishes flat. It doesn’t look or feel like a big hill when you’re not racing, but at mile speed the second quarter is tough. Fortunately I was able to open my stride again on the downhill and give everything I had for the final 800m. I came through the 1500m at 5:02 and knew sub-5:35 was in the bag. My official finish was 5:31—an 11 second PR! Since the mile is still a primarily aerobic distance, I can only imagine that marathon training plus a naturally quick turnover worked in my favor here, although everyone is different. 

Getting a new PR was awesome, but I have to say that my favorite part of race day was hanging out with my coach and her team, the Queens Distance Runners. They set up a “scream station” at the 3/4 mile mark to give runners an extra boost to the finish, which I definitely needed at that point! Running with a team can be a great way to mix things up, meet new people and have support when training gets tough.

Photo from NYRR.org.

Photo from NYRR.org.

Have I sold you on the mile yet? I hope so! Here are a few tips that have worked for me, plus some other great mile road races around the country.

  1. Pacing can be difficult since it’s not quite an all out sprint, but there's no time to save anything, either. Try running your first quarter slightly faster than goal pace, the middle two quarters even at or a few seconds slower than goal pace, and the final quarter as fast as you can.

  2. Even though the first quarter should be a bit faster, be very careful not to go out too fast. It’s tempting to chase the leaders when you’re feeling fresh, but you risk bonking once your glycolytic system fades (within 1-3 min) and the aerobic system takes over.

  3. DON’T carry water or music! It’s only a mile and will be over before you know it. Any extra weight will slow you down.

State Street Mile - Santa Barbara, CA
Medtronic Twin Cities Mile - Minneapolis, MN
Pearl Street Mile - Boulder, CO
Macklind Mile - St. Louis, MO
Millennium Mile - Londonderry, NH